October 9th comes with yet another South Korean holiday, 한글날 (Hangeulnal) or Korean Alphabet Day. Known as Hangeul Day in South Korea and Chosŏn’gŭl (조선글) Day in North Korea, this national holiday commemorates the creation of the Korean alphabet (Hangeul/Chosŏn’gŭl). The alphabet was invented in 1443 and proclaimed as the official alphabet in 1446 by King Sejong the Great.
It is commonly held that King Sejong invented the alphabet himself and possibly with the help of some of his scholars. Before this revolutionary writing system, all records were conducted with Chinese characters (Hanja), which lead to many commoner lacking the ability to read. In order to change this—and against all royal discretion—King Sejong set himself on a secret project to write the alphabet.
This had to be kept secret from most of the royals because of many factors. Chinese political and military culture was highly regarded and many others were considered barbaric at the time, so deviating from a divine writing culture to another was frowned upon. Another likely reason was that the civic tests were reserved for those who were literate. Oftentimes these civil servants would come from higher class families that could afford a teacher for their child. With a universal alphabet that commoners could use, there was widespread fear that the caste system would be uprooted. Lastly, the political fear of contestation. With more people able to read and write, it would be easier for commoners to get an education and get involved in political activities. King Sejong revolutionized Korean society with his new invention.
Who is King Sejong the Great?
Sejong the Great was the fourth ruler of the Joseon Dynasty of Korea (1392 AD to 1897 AD). He is a beloved folk hero in Korea. A highly educated and ingenious strategist, he is most noted for the invention of the phonetic Korean alphabet, Hangeul. Despite opposition from officials who wanted to keep Hanja, Hangeul is the prevailing alphabet today. King Sejong also established a scholarly research institute and library. Under his rule, Korean literature and culture flourished.
Sejong the Great is one of only two Korean rulers honored with the appellation “Great” in all of Korean history. The only other is Gwanggaeto the Great of Goguryeo (57 BC to 668 AD), the monarch who expanded the Korean territory into Manchuria.
The Ingeniousness Behind Hangeul
Hangeul was written based off of the shape the mouth and palette takes when forming the sound. For example ㄱ ‘g’ represent the shape of the tongue when pronouncing the letter. ㅅ represents the shape of the teeth when making the ‘s’ sound and so on.
To learn more about the Korean alphabet and how to write it, take a look here.
What to do on Hangeul Day?
There are small various events that you can go to on this day. A lot of people tend to go to Gwanghwamun Plaza or the Han River or just enjoy a day of relaxation. This holiday was removed from the list of national holiday because of pressure by companies in 1991. However, starting in 2013, October 9th was reinstated as a national holiday in celebration of the creation of Hangeul.
오늘의 표현 (Today’s Expression):
올해 한글날은 목요일에 있습니다.
ol-lae han-geul-nal-eun mo-gyo-il-e i-ssum-ni-da.
This year Hangeul Day is on a Thursday.
올해 (ol-lae) — this year
한글날 (Han-geul-nal) — Hangeul Day or Korean Alphabet Day
목요일 (Mo-gyo-il) — Thursday